Who and What are Trotsky-cons?



Who and What are Trotsky-cons?


The term “Trotsky-con” has become part of the lexicon of populist paranoia in the First World. Despite its currency with red-baiters and anti-Semites, especially during the years of the Bush administration, the term does correctly refer to the  link between Trotskyism and a certain group of policy thinkers within the new generation of conservatives that emerged after World War 2. The SWP USA, a party from which many Trotsky-cons emerged, feebly dismisses any connection as fascist conspiracy theory, as though the link were a pure invention of the paranoid delusions of Lyndon LaRouche and Pat Buchanan. (1) Despite their protests to the contrary, there are deep theoretic links between Trotskyism and imperialism. Neo-con Stephen Schwartz proudly defends his Trotskyist past and prefers that “neo-cons” be called “Trotsky-cons.” (2) He goes so far as to say he will defend Trotsky “To my last breath, and without apology.” (3)

Very early on, Trotsky was engaged in various power struggles within the Soviet Union against the proletarian line of Lenin and Stalin. As early as 1926, in the infamous Clemenceau Declaration, Trotsky sought to use imperialist invasion of the Soviet Union as a way for his forces to seize power. Just as the Bolsheviks were able to take power during World War 1, Trotsky saw his forces similarly positioned to seize power. Into the 1930s, as Europe was polarized between fascists and anti-fascists, Trotsky, even though he criticized fascism, he did not see fascist invasion as the main danger.  Once again, Trotsky increasingly saw Stalin as the main danger to the Soviet Union, even on the eve of World War 2. Once one understands the essence of Trotskyism, it becomes apparent why one of the only times that Trotsky supported national liberation was for the Ukraine in 1939. (4) Trotsky advocated civil war in the Soviet Union and Ukrainian succession on the eve of Nazi invasion:

“In the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition (82-3), February-April, 1940, the following long paragraph appeared in place of the opening two sentences of the Sunday Express version: ‘…I consider the main source of danger to the USSR in the present international situation to be Stalin and the oligarchy headed by him. An open struggle against them, in the view of world public opinion, is inseparably connected for me with the defense of the USSR.” (5)

No doubt Trotsky saw his Clemenceau Declaration in the 1920s and, later, de facto support for the Nazis as having a parallel with 1917. Trotsky was hoping that an imperialist invasion of the Soviet Union, even one carried out by the Nazis, could catapult him to power just as the German invasion of World War 1 was a factor in the October Revolution of 1917. Trotsky was hoping to turn an imperialist war into his own brand of “revolutionary war” against Stalin and Soviet socialism. Trotsky saw himself riding to power on the backs of Nazi tanks. Just as Lenin’s strategy of turning imperialist invasion into revolutionary war has been named “revolutionary defeatism,” Trotsky’s strategy could be called “counter-revolutionary defeatism” since it turns Lenin on his head.

This extreme reactionary position is one element of Trotsky’s politics, a very important one. However, this does not exhaust Trotsky’s politics. Trotsky held contradictory, conflicting, confused positions, which is why Trotsky, at the same time, can appear to be anti-imperialist and anti-fascist. It took another, Trotsky’s follower, Max Shachtman, to work out the kinks, to put forward a more coherent form of Trotsky’s counter-revolutionary defeatist line. Shachtman called Stalinism, “the new barbarism.” In 1939, following the Soviet invasion of Finland, Shachtman followed James Burnham in arguing against the SWP USA’s nominal and weak-kneed defense of the USSR. They argued that the Soviet Union was not socialist and did not even deserve nominal support. Shachtman came to support the Western imperialists against the Soviet Union. Like Trotsky, Shachtman came to see Stalin as the main danger to the world. Like Trotsky, who agreed to testify on the crimes of Stalin to the anti-communist witch hunters in the Congress of the United States,  Shachtman was not above selling himself to the imperialists. The original Trotsky-cons, like Shachtman, are those who evolved from supporters of Trotsky’s so-called “Fourth International” into Cold Warriors for Western imperialism. If Trotsky is the father of the Trotsky-con movement, Max Shachtman is its mother. In addition, there has emerged a second generation of high profile intellectual Trotskyists, who mostly came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, who, like the earlier Trotsky-cons, have converted to become stooges for U.S. empire. Trotsky continues to have imperialist offspring, even to this day there is another generation of First Worldist, so-called socialists who support imperialism for similar reasons.

Although twisted opportunism surely played a role  in uniting Trotskyists and empire, the roots of the Trotsky-con phenomenon are much deeper, found within the ideology of Trotskyism itself. At the core of Trotskyism is the Theory of Productive Forces and its twin, the Theory of Permanent Revolution. The Theory of Productive Forces overemphasizes economic development as a factor in advancing revolution. According to such a  mechanical misreading of historical materialism, a society is unable to build socialism if it has not developed an economic base that approximates that of Western Europe at the time; it is, according to such Trotsky-cons and those with similar outlooks, impossible to build socialism unless a country has already gone through Western style capitalism. Much of Maoism is a rejection of and answer to this kind of phony Marxism. Mao showed how it was possible to bridge the gap between the most backward semi-feudal conditions and socialism with his theory of New Democracy. Mao showed how by harnessing the power of the masses, a communist party can lead countries whose development has been stunted by imperialism forward to socialism. The whole history of socialism validates Mao’s view. In the 1930s, under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union had developed socialism at a breakneck pace in unfavorable conditions. Stalin had correctly predicted that it was necessary to build socialism as rapidly as possible; Stalin famously said the Soviet Union must catch up to the West or be annihilated. Not only were the Soviet masses able to build an economic base, they did so while making ever greater strides toward proletarian democracy. By the 30s, the Theory of Productive Forces had been refuted in practice by the living example of the Soviet achievement. By the late 30s, there was no excuse for anyone to uphold the Theory of Productive Forces or Permanent Revolution. Yet Trotskyists continued to ignore the reality in front of them. They continued to reject “Socialism in One Country” on a priori grounds. As Harry Haywood correctly points out, Trotskyist veered between defeatism and utopianism:

“From late 1922 on, Trotsky made a direct attack on the whole Leninist theory of revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. He denied the possibility (and necessity) of building socialism in one country, and instead characterized that theory as an abandonment of Marxist principles and a betrayal of the revolutionary movement. He published his own theory of “permanent revolution,” and he contended that a genuine advance of socialism in the USSR would become possible only as a result of a socialist victory in the other industrially developed nations.

While throwing around a good deal of left-sounding rhetoric, Trotsky’s theories were thoroughly defeatist and class collaborationist. For instance, in the postscript to Program for Peace, written in 1922, he contended that “as long as the bourgeoisie remains in power in the other European countries, we shall be compelled, in our struggle against economic isolation, to strive for agreement with the capitalist world; at the same time it may be said with certainty that these agreements may at best help us to mitigate some of our economic ills, to take one or another step forward, but real progress of a socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after victory of the proletariat in the major European countries.” (6)

Many Trotskyists rejected the possibility of socialism in the backward Soviet Union, or they rejected socialism there as “deformed.” According to view of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, real socialism’s only hope was for a more developed country to come to the aid of the Bolsheviks. Those who uphold this position today state that revolution in the underdeveloped countries of the Third World is impossible without the help of the “advanced” First World. So, they argue, it is necessary to have a revolution in Western Europe or the United States in order to develop socialism in the  the Third World generally. For these reasons, Trotsky and his modern followers reject the idea that the principal contradiction in the world is between imperialist and exploited nations. They see national liberation movements as incapable of making real proletarian revolution in Third World conditions. They are First World chauvinists who uphold versions of both the Theory of Productive Forces and Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution. This kind of position is echoed today by many overt Trotskyists and many covert ones. Such a view is found, for example, in the writings of many who were in the orbit of the RIM, another defunct fourth international.

James Burnham and Max Shachtman carried Trotsky’s criticism of Stalin to its conclusion. Not only was the mode of production in the Soviet Union not socialist, its mode of production was “bureaucratic collectivist,” worse than capitalism. Shachtman even suggested it was based on slave labor. (7) Anti-communist conservatives and liberals had long made exactly these kinds of claims. Thus it wasn’t long before Shachtman was on the side of the Unites States in the Cold War. Such Trotskyists end up supporting Western imperialism as progressive because it allegedly brings development, paving the way for future social change. In other words, Western-style capitalism and modernity are prerequisites to socialism. And, they argue, since imperialism brings Western-style capitalism and modernity, imperialism is progressive and should be supported. Such lines are CIA lines. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before such “communists” dropped any pretense to socialism at all. After abandoning any pretense of socialist revolution, the Trotsky-cons opted to use imperialism to export Western liberalism and modernity as, what they saw as, the best realistic option for the world. Stephen Schwartz noted the parallels between Bush’s grand designs of nation-building and exporting Western modernity with Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution in Bush’s Second Inaugural Address:

“‘The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.’ This sounds like it came right out of Trotsky’s bottle: The survival of socialism in the Soviet Union increasingly depends on the success of socialism in other lands. Neo-con Stephen Schwartz said that ‘those who are fighting for global democracy should view Leon Trotsky as a worthy forerunner.’” (8)

Trotsky’s Theory of Productive Forces, Theory of Permanent Revolution, and criticism of socialism as it existed in the Soviet Union, are linked. There is a clear path from Trotsky’s First World chauvinism to the imperialism expressed in paternalistic terms by the neo-conservatives. It is no accident that ex-Trotskyists became Reaganites and the movers and shakers establishment far-right policy thinkers. James Burnham founded National Review. Some of these new conservatives passed through Shachtmanite Young People’s Socialist League at one point or another or passed through the Socialist Party when Schachtman was still a leading figure.  Jeane Kirkpatrick, Joshua Muravchik, Carl Gershman, Penn Kemble are worth mentioning. (9) Ex-Trotskyist and Public Interest founder Irving Kristol (father of William Kristol editor of the Weekly Standard) founded an anti-Soviet CIA front, the International Congress for Cultural Freedom. (10) (11) Kristol wrote in 1983 that he was a “proud” member of Trotsky’s Fourth International in 1940. (12) Public Interest co-editor Nathan Glazer was close to the Trotskyist movement. (13) Also, defense intellectual Albert Wohlstetter had been a Shachtmanite in the late 1940s. Later, he was mentor to Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. (14) (15) These figures were the brainpower behind much of the conservative revival in the past decades.

There is another trend worth mentioning who are similar to Trotsky-cons, but do not identify as conservatives. Christopher Hitchens, an ex-Trotskyist, has been moving in a similar direction as  Trotsky-cons. Hitchens revels in his new found fame as one of the top promoters of war against Afghanistan and Iraq. Faux News never misses a chance to give Hitchens a soapbox to condemn “Islamofascism” and the anti-war movement. Hitchens was also a consultant to the Bush administration despite still claiming to be some kind of “leftist.” Because of his imperial “leftism,” Hitchens, like Sidney Hook who traveled Trotskyist circles and later worked for the CIA, is similar to Trotsky-cons, but is outside their conservative milieu. Some compare him more to the anti-Soviet liberals of the Cold War era. Even so, the underlying phenomenon is similar whether it is Hitchens or Irving Kristol. If one believes that socialism is impossible in the Third World, where development is lacking, one can easily come to see the “civilizing mission” and “manifest destiny” of the West as progressive and necessary — even though, as Lenin understood, decadent imperialism plays no progressive role in the contemporary world.

Another variation is the development of crypto-Trotskyism. Crypto-Trotskyism is Trotskyism under a Maoist cover. It is Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution disguised under false praise for the Cultural Revolution. For example, the RCP USA, at one point, claimed to be a Maoist party even though they rejected global people’s war as Lin Biaoism. (16)  In his infamous Conquer the World, their leader Bob Afakean, in all but name, upholds Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution and Theory of Productive forces. RCP USA advanced the claim that socialist revolutions can’t be sustained in the Third World without revolution carrying over into the developed First World, “the imperialist citadels.” Like Trotskyists before them, they sought to coordinate Third and First World revolutions through a fourth international led by First World organizations whose revolutions were deemed key, more important than those in the Third World. Thus they turn the Maoist truth, articulated by Lin Biao, that “the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggle of Asian, African, and Latin American peoples” on its head. They see the First World as the key, not the Third. With such a reactionary ideology, it is no surprise that they have disrupted and spread confusion within the communist movement worldwide.  Today, their Trotsky-con kin denounce “Islamo-fascism,” and the crypto-Trotskyists join the choir with their attacks against Iran. What kind of “Maoist” party holds anti-Iranian demonstrations in a climate where the imperialists are imposing sanctions and on the verge of military action? In fact, their Iranian fraternal party echos Trotsky when it writes that the Islamic state as a bigger enemy than the United States. They issue statements that parrot the imperialist denunciation of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and the alleged treatment of women there. They, along with RCP USA and similar groups, were de facto supporters of the recent CIA-backed attempted color revolution in Iran. What is really going on is that the Iranian “Maoists” implicitly seek a confrontation between the imperialists and the Islamic regime in order to advance their own interests, like Trotsky. Along with upholding, in all but name, the Theory of Productive Forces and the Theory of Permanent Revolution, RCP USA and its allies  increasingly attacksthe record of Lenin, Stalin and Mao in the same terms as the Cold War anti-communists. (17) They criticize revolutionary nationalism and reject the true Communists who understand that the vast majority of the First World population is thoroughly reactionary. These are not merely opportunist errors of Maoist organizations, they are systematic, reactionary errors. (18)(19) (20) This isn’t too say that there are not legitimate criticisms to be made of the communist tradition. However, the criticisms made by the Trotskyists and crypto-Trotskyists are, even when they happen to be correct, part of a reactionary package that must be rejected as a whole. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, but that is not any incentive to buy the broken clock.

Contrary to Trotskyist claims, the experiences of the Soviet Union and China are proof that it is possible to build socialism in unfavorable conditions. In fact, revolutions are always born in unfavorable conditions. Revolutions happen, as Lenin stated, in the weakest links. They happen when the old society is failed. The proletariat and its allies are very resilient. They have shown that they can overcome the problem of development. By the end of the Stalin era, for example, the Soviet Union had become an atomic power and had become a match for the West technologically. They had raised life expectancy to nearly the level of the West. (21) Real existing socialism has shown that development and empowerment of the masses is not an antagonistic contradiction. Empowering the masses is key to development, as Mao understood. The Soviet Union and China, under proletarian leadership, traversed in a few decades what took hundreds of years and the bloody legacy of imperialism to accomplish in the imperialist nations.

According to Trotsky-con Stephen Schwartz, there is “a psychological, ideological and intellectual continuity” between Trotskyism and conservatism. (22) Some might suggest that these Trotskyist-to-conservative political evolutions are accidental, just coincidence. Although similar conversions can be found among the social democratic “left,” which has been hostile to communism from the outset, it would be hard to find such a congealed group of Washington ideologues coming out of any other trend claiming to be “socialist.” At bottom, Trotskyism is First Worldism. It fights for the First World against the Third World. In this respect, it is not different than any number ideologies in the First World, including fascism. Long before they embraced conservatism, the Trotsky-cons were advocating imperialism and White chauvinism. All Trotskyists are Trotsky-cons at heart.


1. Sam Manuel. “Jew-hatred, red-baiting: heart of claims of ‘neo-con’ conspiracy ” The Militant Vol. 68/No. 24 June 28, 2004 http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6824/.html

2. Dale Vree. “What Is A Neocon? & Does It Matter?” New Oxford Review December 2005

3. Stephen Schwartz. “Trotskycons? Pasts and Present.” National Review June 11, 2003 http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-schwartz.asp

4. Writings of Leon Trotsky, , “Ukrainian Independence and Sectarian Muddleheads.” Pathfinder Press, New York: 1973. Also see: http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/classics/text.php?mimfile=trotskyukraine.txt

5. Leon Trotsky. Writings of Leon Trotsky: NY: Merit Publishers, p. 124 (quoted from MIM, http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/classics/text.php?mimfile=trotskystalin.txt)

6. Harry Haywood. Black Bolshevik Liberator Press Chicago, Illnoisa USA 1978 p 178

7. Tony Cliff. The theory of bureaucratic collectivism:A critique 1948 http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1948/xx/burcoll.htm#n12

8. Stephen Schwartz. “Trotskycons? Pasts and Present.” National Review June 11, 2003 http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-schwartz.asp

9. John B. Judis. Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution Foreign Affairs, July – August 1995 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19950701fareviewessay5058/john-b-judis/trotskyism-to-anachronism-the-neoconservative-revolution.html

10. Leon Hadar. “The “Neocons”: From the Cold War to the “Global Intifada”” April 1991 http://www.washington-report.org/backissues/0491/.htm

11. Paul Greenberg. “The ‘Shocked’ Treatment” Commentary December 9, 2005 http://www.washingtontimes.com/commentary/-1714r.htm

12. Flirting with Fascism June 30, 2003 http://www.amconmag.com/06_30_03/feature.html

13. John B. Judis. Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution Foreign Affairs, July – August 1995 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19950701fareviewessay5058/john-b-judis/trotskyism-to-anachronism-the-neoconservative-revolution.html

14. http://www.lycos.com/info/albert-wohlstetter–paul-wolfowitz.html

15. Trotsky’s ghost wandering the White House National Post June 07, 2003
http://www.prisonplanet.com/trotskys_ghost_wandering_the_white_house.htm also see

16. Bob Avakian. For a Harvest of Dragons. RCP Publications. USA:1983. p 150-151. “ ….to cling to at least aspects of Lin Biao-ism. Lin Biao was a top leader of the communist Party of China in the 1960s and he is associated with the line of singling out U.S. imperialism for a common onslaught from the “third world,” with simultaneous national liberation wars defeating U.S. imperialism throughout the “third world,” and even possibly destroying it altogether. His line (as expressed in a 1965 pamphlet [written by Lin Biao], Long Live The Victory of People’s War) represented the absolutizing of what was then the principal contradiction in the world (between oppressed nations and imperialism) — raising it out of context of world relations and contradictions in which it actually exists and treating it as a thing unto itself and virtually the only significant contradiction in the world. While recognizing the existence of revolutionary situations and favorable revolutionary prospects in many countries in the “third world” it exaggerated this into a tendency to treat the “third world” as an undifferentiated whole, ripe everywhere for revolution. Related to this, in upholding the importance of armed struggle as a necessary means for replacing the old order with the new and insisting on the fact that in many places in the “third world” it was possible and necessary to make armed struggle the main and immediate form of struggle — in opposition to the Soviet revisionist line that attempted to make economic development the main task in the “third world” neo-colonies — Lin Biao’s line exaggerated this to a point of virtually insisting that everywhere in the “third world” revolutionary warfare could and must be launched right away (in Long Live the victory, whether one dares to wage a people’s war is made the touchstone of distinguishing Marxism-Leninism from revisionism). As part of this whole line, the objective fact that the proletarian revolution had been delayed in the imperialist countries and that there was as yet no proletarian revolutionary movement there was absolutized, so that the prospect of such revolution in the imperialist countries was all but dismissed…
…But to attempt to cling to Lin Biaoism in the world situation of today, with all its profound changes since the 1960s, including the principal contradiction, can only have very serious and disastrous consequences…”

17. Bob Avakian. From Ike to Mao And Beyond Insight Press USA:2005 p 241-245

18.  Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology-
On Knowing and Changing the World Revolutionary Worker #1262, December 19, 2004 http://revcom.u s/a/1262/avakian-epistemology.htm

19. Bob Avakian. Conquer The World https://irtr.org/archive/marxleninmao.proboards43.com/index797a223fb67a05dea8905ab852594d01.html?board=math&action=display&thread=

20. Bob Avakian. From Ike to Mao And Beyond Insight Press USA:2005 p 245

21. Maoist Internationalist Movement. Stalin page http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/faq/sovietcomputers.html

22 Trotsky’s ghost wandering the White House National Post June 07, 2003